When Manchester ADP invited me to be part of 'What the Dickens', 4 modern responses to Oldham Coliseums main production of Charles Dicken’s Hard Times, I was thrilled and slightly nervous. Writing a modern response for such a classic was a daunting task but I was interested to see what happened.
ADP sent over a copy of the directors script for Hard Times, it was fascinating to read the play and also all the directors notes too. It wasn’t too difficult for me to think of a scenario initially, Dickens' novel focussed on the treatment of the working poor, industrialisation and privilege, shining a light on suppression of imagination and choice for working people. Dickens also sort to expose that money is often, falsely, used as an indicator of worth, value, and morality. The current political climate gave me an easy parallel. I chose to pin the story on the welfare state, setting the play in the local Job Centre. The relationship that stood out most in the main stage play was the father daughter relationship of Mr Gradgrind and his daughter Louisa. Mr Gradgrind, the local teacher, was steadfast in his belief that children should not use their imaginations and should only ever rely on facts, without question. Louisa followed her fathers inflexible instruction and grew up to live in an unhappy marriage with local mill owner and bully, Bounderby. At the end of Hard Times, Gradgrind realises his strict instruction and control of Louisa ultimately led to her misery and unhappiness. Unlike another character Sissy, Gradgrind adopts her from a local circus but is unable to force out her imagination and free will. I decided to mirror this relationship in my short play Harder Times.
My first draft didn’t quiet capture what I wanted to say, I really wanted to focus on privilege and how it can impact on our capacity to empathise with people from different backgrounds to ourselves. I also wanted to look at how our current welfare system removes choice from people looking for work and doesn’t allow for creativity or imagination. Many people, regardless of qualifications and experience get offered zero hours, minimum wage jobs in call centres. I thought it would be interesting for Louisa to have fallen on hard times and need to access the job centre her own father, Jobsworth, oversees. In my response, Louisa enters the job centre with an air of superiority, she isn’t like ‘these’ people. In the waiting room she comes across Sissy and Stephen and we can tell she believes they are the undeserving poor, not like her, a good middle class women that’s only fallen on hard times because her architect company made her redundant (following her pregnancy).
I met with the Director of my piece, Rose Van Leyenhorst to discuss my play. Rose liked my idea and premise and we had a great discussion about class, privilege, creativity, and lack of control. Rose told me that she usually directs futuristic pieces and suggested I might have a hint of something more sinister in my play. I loved this idea, and went off to write my final draft. We talked about people possibly being killed if they were of no more value in these call centres, we talked of the parallels at the moment with sanctions and fit for work assessments and the devastating impact these decisions can have on people’s lives. I decided to use the character of Sissy to suggest this possible threat, in my play she tries, in vain, to warn Louisa and Stephen about the 'Calibration Portal' (we never find out what this really is but it is suggested that it is a place they send claimants after they have been sanctioned, a place they cannot return from). Louisa’s interactions with Della, the robotic, cold, job centre worker, finally make her realise that Sissy was right and they were not that different after all. Louisa argues with Della and much to her surprise her father is working at that centre that day and comes over to see what has happened. Unlike in Hard Times, Louisa is able to tell her father what she thinks about their privilege and his rigid views and he realises that now his daughter is in this position he may have played it wrong.
I used a couple of lines from David Cameron’s speech on welfare in 2012 at Bluewater, ‘compassion isn’t given out in welfare cheques’. At the rehearsals the actor playing ‘Jobsworth’, Shaun Hennessy, said this was his favourite line.
It was such a joy to meet the actors at rehearsals on the Sunday, they were so talented, Morag Mclean Peacock, Emily Heyworth, Helen Katamba, Adrian Palmer and Shaun Hennessy did such a great job bringing the play to life. Rose really developed the futuristic theme with great subtlety and we had a great response on the night. Seeing my play performed on such a great stage, using the Hard Times set, was a real treat and a night I’ll always remember. It was great seeing how the other writers had interpreted the play, each one was completely different. What the Dickens was a credit to Manchester ADP and to Oldham Coliseum, I’m so glad I was able to part of it.
Manchester ADP, Scripts Aloud is such a great resource for new writers, seeing and hearing my work performed has really developed my skills introduced me to so many talented actors, directors and producers and helped my career. I had a full length play reading there in January for The Loves of Others, as a result it is part of this years Greater Manchester fringe festival, playing at 53Two 18-22 July. If you have a script you are working on I urge you to send it in to Manchester ADP, you won’t regret it.
I was recently fortunate enough to be cast in two consecutive ADP rehearsed readings. The first was at 53Two in Manchester city centre and the second was at the well-known Kings Arms Salford. But I had a guilty secret.
I thoroughly enjoyed both productions, not only from the point of view of the actual performances, but the whole buzz that surrounds putting on a production with scant rehearsal and the need to make bold choices in a short space of time.
The whole process of getting a production from the page to the stage is gratifying for an actor at several points along the way. Firstly there’s the thrill of being cast at all; knowing that someone has seen something that they like in you and is willing to put even a small part of their production in your hands.
Then there’s the fun of getting to know your character. Playing with voices and choices before turning up to that all-important first rehearsal, followed by that, sometimes awkward, moment of meeting the director and the rest of the cast. Looking your fellow players in the eye and hoping that you’ll get along.
Rehearsals give the chance to get to know everyone and to mould the disparate characters into a performance worthy of what the writer had in mind at the time of writing; time for the director to bring together the various ingredients and to turn them into a dish worth tasting.
In a traditional environment this process takes place over weeks or sometimes months, but that’s not the ADP way. Manchester ADP distils the essence of the theatrical journey and serves it up to the actor in a concentrated form. If the normal process is a skinny latte, the ADP experience is a double espresso with a spoonful of caffeine thrown in for good measure! The full nine yards compressed into a twenty-four hour inch.
So, having gone through the first performance without a hitch, I confessed the truth to my fellow players and our director, the delightful Kayleigh Ruth Hawkins. I hadn’t wanted to tell them before the performance, lest it put the fear of God into them, worried that I’d fall to bits with fright as the curtain went up.
The truth of the matter was that my last appearance live on stage was playing Judas in an abortive production of Jesus Christ Superstar some 41 years ago! Yes, I acted between the ages of 5 and 18 and yes, I’ve spent the last couple of years re-kindling my love for the craft by acting in a host of local screen roles. But there’s no substitute for that instant feedback when performing in front of a live audience. There’s nobody to shout “cut!” You’re out there with all eyes on you and the rest of the cast depending on you to play your part. It may have been 41 years since I was last on stage, but it felt like it was yesterday. Thanks to Kayleigh and to Rose Van Leyenhorst for casting me and thanks to Manchester ADP for making it all possible. It won’t be 41 years until the next one!
A post from the wonderful (and creative) mind of one of our absolute favourite people. Mr Mark Russell, you have been the key to our lock, the essence of our potion, the spine of our figure. Thank you for everything. Long may our marriage continue....
As ever, when one is asked to re-visit, remember in detail and commit to Realms of Bloggery the circumstances of a truly memorable occasion it`s almost impossible not to give way to the temptation of re-inventing the narrative in the re-telling. However, most of what follows is unequivocally the truth. The rest should be.
My introduction to ADP was through the `Help Wanted` column of December 2015`s issue of `Desperate Actresses and Directors`, a copy of which I came across on Pension Day at the local Post Office. I remember thinking that both `trades` should combine, form a partnership and launch an independent Theatre Company, but that`s a story to be told by someone else.
The advertisement, almost a begging letter if I recall correctly, stated simply that the services of Photographer were required: quite how desperately required soon became apparent. I replied to the ad, stating that whilst I couldn`t claim to be an actual photographer I did at least own a camera. I was hired on the spot. It was an arbitrary, fortuitous decision that came at a pivotal moment in a tale of Four Thirds.
The First Third, 1951 - 1983, covered three fabulously formative decades culminating in a rather hazy period of Love, Peace and Brown Rice that will forever essentially be `The Who that I Am`.
The Second Third, !983 - 2015, saw my outward transition to Husband, Father and Corporate Monkey eventually managing 8 figure Project Budgets whilst still seeing Jimi Hendrix floating above the head of anyone wearing Pink - and an awful lot of my C M Colleagues favoured Pink Shirts and Ties. For over thirty years Batman`s struggle to keep his secret identity intact paled into insignificance when compared to my Boardroom Subterfuge. I was Ghandi with a loaded P & L and still believed that `All You Need is Love`. As soon as I no longer needed to Work to Live, I baled. Made a funeral pyre of my suits, shirts and ties to the strains of Siegfried`s Funeral March from Gotterdamerung and ran for the hills.
The Third Third, 2015 to ??? saw me leaving the hills and washing up on the shores of ADP, camera in hand, and completely out of my depth.
To be able to say that I`ve been a part of the ADP Story from Chapter One is a source of great personal pride. I`ve witnessed the fabulous personal and collaborative creative endeavour that has fuelled the growth and continued successes of Our Community and, twee as it may sound, have also grown personally in so many ways: The Old Dog/New Tricks myth has, in my case, been well and truly debunked almost entirely due to the support of the ADP community. To date I have had a script performed and have another awaiting a performance date; both enabled the completion of a full script that has already had expressions of interest from two independent production companies. I`m still not a `Real Photographer` but have an ongoing project working with low light, theatrical photography and as I apparently have a `Job for Life` with ADP have no worries on that score.
In short, I can now masquerade as `Not a Photographer who is also Not a Writer`; how deliciously bizarre my life has become; sincerest thanks to you all for helping me along that particular path.
The Fourth Third ???. Who knows ???. Let`s hope that it`s as interesting as The Third. :-)
This morning, in the wake of our Lowry success, we have the pleasure of posting up a blog from one of last night's writers - Joe Osborne of 'Spring Forward Fall Back'. The feedback from Joe's work last night was truly phenomenal and it is a piece we cannot wait to see in its next incarnation.
Apologies that Joe's blog is written before the event - but we hope you enjoy getting in the mind space of this writer, 24-hours before the event.
Thank you again Joe for your hard work, incredible talent and generous writing. Here's to the future!
Here I am, just 24 hours away from a rehearsed reading of part of my play, Spring Forward Fall Back, which now has three quarters of its scenes and a plot outline to hang them on. As I sat watching rehearsal today, I had to pinch myself as the group gave collective attention to my script. The actors are now speaking words which once sprang from a blurred conversation in my head. There’s a director poring over phrases and a stage direction taken from a fleeting family memory, and a photographer composing an angle between two characters that might well have been the start of it all.
It’s a memorable feeling - letting go of your creation and handing it on to others to scratch, shape and inhabit. In a way, the play is no longer yours, like a child leaving home, exposed to the wider world, and with only your name stamped upon it. But I would have it no other way. How wonderful to see an actor express one of your silences, provoking laughter in the process, or hear a director’s note that captures the subtext of half a page you once wrestled over. It’s the payoff for the hard slog of play writing - the collaboration, the coming together of creative minds, and the boost it provides for the next phase. You learn to let go. If that feels too painful, then give up on the play and turn it into a novel or short story instead.
I’m so grateful for the support of Hannah, Diana and all at Manchester ADP in getting the play this far. I’ve already written short scenes up to 15 minutes and a short play. But pushing on, moulding a story, writing more scenes and rewriting those you thought were completed, is a hard business. Having the group show faith in your work, and then shine a light on it with the help of actors, directors, photographers and promoters, all giving their help for free, is a gift you can’t put a value on. I’ve supported other writers at ADP from my seat, with messages of support and as an actor, and there is a mutual desire to support one another and keep the writing to the fore. The play after all, is the thing.
I’m ready for the best part now, the sharing with an audience. Of course, I’m nervous… watching your work from a seat is far more exposing than walking onto a stage as an actor. If you’ve written a heartfelt play, then your memories, your sensibilities, in some ways your soul, are all on show. There is nowhere to hide. But when there’s spontaneous laughter, a shared intensity of listening, or a collective in-breath of surprise, then you know that your words have worked, in the way that only play writing can.
I hope there’s some of that tomorrow and that Scripts Aloud will make even more noise in future.
Bank Holiday Party Time
by David Chriscole
Manchester ADP 1st Anniversary Bash
There are some events in a calendar that really can’t (or shouldn’t) be ignored. If you miss it, it’ll never happen again, and in years to come you’ll be kicking yourself. This was true of the 1st anniversary bash for Manchester ADP on 29th August 2016, and despite suffering from an annoyingly painful throat, I wasn’t going to be stopped from attending!
As usual, we were gathered at The Kings Arms, Salford to celebrate an incredible year. Lisa Connor, owner of The Kings Arms, very kindly laid on some free wine for us too, which went down a treat.
Pity that Lisa could not join in the fun however, but she is just about to give birth, so was taking some rest.
The bar staff of course were their usual friendly and devoted selves, looking after the throng of bodies, keeping us all well watered.
On the whole, I think we took over the entire building. Having set up tables in the bar for the bring-and-share buffet (a genius idea by the way), we quickly overflowed to the Snug and beer garden.
Not only this, the seating had been removed from the theatre
upstairs for some announcements, speeches and special
presentations from ADP. I don’t know about anyone else,
but it felt rather eerie in the theatre with no seats, how odd it looked.
MC's Hannah Ellis and Diana Atkins
It’s All About The Numbers
Amongst the announcements, we learned that over the course of the year Manchester ADP has racked up some pretty amazing statistics:
18 shows, 57 new scripts, 35
writers, 99 actors and 14
Not only this, but there were still 47 scripts waiting to be performed and a whopping 109 actors who have yet to appear on stage. Incredible.
The Shape Of Things To Come
We were also privy to a sneaky little taster of ADP’s next development, simply going under the banner (or a working title) of:
Marie Crook, a BBC director, has come on board with the project, and ADP has the support of Salford University's studios and students too. Not much in the way of detail as it’s still a work in progress, but this will be a ‘soft-launch’ programme, so keep your ears to the speaker to learn more in the coming months.
The Awards Ceremony Part 1
We saw some fun awards handed out to pay tribute to various members of ADP, for all sorts of reasons (please excuse if the titles aren't 100% accurate).
David Chriscole receiving an ADP award.
(Image: Sophie Coward)
Home-made brownies made by Hannah Ellis, and a certificate were handed out for these genuinely difficult to get but tongue in cheek awards.
• Absolute Legend - Lisa Connor
• Most Tireless Appraiser - Gray Littlewood
• Most Loyal Audience Member & Hard Working Appraiser - Dave Jones
• Best Photographer In The Whole Wide World - Mark Russell
• Volunteer Award - Laura Duncalf
• Up And Coming Volunteer - Naomi Albans
• FOH/Bouncer You Don't Mess With - Andrew Ruddy
• Most Loyal Audience Member & Supportive Human Being - David Chriscole
Gracious thanks were also given to Tech Guru Andrew Glassford in his absence, for his hard work and dedication to Manchester ADP.
Awards Ceremony Part 2
No awards ceremony would be complete without some form of prize-giving, other than gorgeous brownies of course.
To mark the next set of awards Manchester ADP were sponsored by Casting Networks UK, who have very kindly given ‘pro’ subscriptions for their platform to each of the actors below.
Many congratulations to everyone!
• The Actor Team Award (“Doe” script R&D weekend, dir. Craig Sanders) - Emily Grogan, Kizzy Watson, Mary Hooton, Hilly Barber, Louise Wilson and Rianna Windust.
• The Most Exploited Actor Award - Joel Parry
• Most Useful Actor To Know & All Round Legend - Sophie Coward
• Most Supportive Actor & Absolute Legend - Sean Chriscole
The night before our bash I decided that I’d try my hand at a little poetry to add to the 1st birthday card I was taking along. Well I’m certainly not going to win any awards for this, but it was fun having this read out to everyone. Here it is once again for those that missed it.
THANK YOU ADP
by David Chriscole © 2016
Just when I thought, the world was shite
Along came three angels, and put me right
Diana flew from London's glitter, putting Manc-land in its place to shiver
Hannah comes from land down-under, she stops our meetings from making blunder
Lisa gives us room to breathe, why on earth would we want to leave
Without these girls the friends we see, we'd probably never get to see
We bow as-well to those that bring, the doors, the light AND Twitter!
Unsung heroes also work, to bring delights unto our stage
To those unseen we give our thanks, and blessing on you always
So now we stand and raise our glass, and here we do our cheering
ONE YEAR TODAY! you've done the deed, and killed off any doubters
Night Off For Resident Photographer
Usually at Manchester ADP events, our resident photographer Mark Russell is to be seen lurking and snapping away, capturing some pretty awesome candid shots.
On this night however, Mark was given the night off, and the task of capturing the atmosphere fell to ADP’s very own Social Media butterfly, Sophie Coward.
What a super job she’s done too. Here are a few of my favourites, and you’ll find more over on the Unofficial Sophie Facebook Page.